Friday, September 25, 2009
Tweeting is silly!
My Editor at The Pioneer, Chandan Mitra, disagrees with me on Twitter as the new platform for instant communications which could emerge as the medium of the future. I am grateful to Mr Mitra for sharing his views with the readers of 'Agent Provocateur'. I hope it will initiate a debate on tweeting, its significance and future.-- Kanchan Gupta.
By Chandan Mitra
I am rather amused by the huge controversy in India over twittering. India’s Minister of State for External Affairs, my good friend Shashi Tharoor, got into quite some hot water over an allegedly insensitive remark, for using the common term ‘cattle class’ to refer to economy travellers on aircraft. The Minister is entitled to his opinion but the question is whether people in high office should expose themselves to the risk of being quoted, sometimes out of context, causing acute discomfort to the Establishment. As of now, media reports suggest he is continuing to twitter although the postings have suddenly turned innocuous and thereby lost the fun element.
At the risk of being labelled grossly old-fashioned, I haven’t for the life of me understood why thousands should be interested in the daily itineraries of other people, which often contain utterly banal information such as “Had two eggs for breakfast today. Must keep watch on cholesterol level” or “Just had a cup of life-saving Starbucks coffee. Now to find a place to smoke”. These examples are second-hand because I am still not on Twitter despite considerable pressure from colleagues and my sons. I have only recently climbed onto the Facebook bandwagon. But it is obvious that a lot of people enjoy reading these inane posts. Social networking has acquired obsessive dimensions, often crossing boundaries of acceptable social behaviour. It has also begun to replace physical meetings and even verbal communication.
Arguably, sms and email has made life a lot easier and allowed people to maximise communication. A fair amount of official work gets done through text messages; saves time, cuts out on long phone calls and superficial exchange of pleasantries. The importance of emails in contemporary life is too big to merit reiteration. But I wonder what precise void social networking fills. Is it a fall-out of the immense loneliness of urban life particularly for young people? Is it because some people want to reassure themselves that there are friends ready to share joys and sorrows that maybe even their boy/girl friends don’t have time for? Or maybe it has opened an avenue to express thoughts and emotions to an entire community of known and unknown people and thus feel self-satisfied?
Whatever it may be, there is no doubt that social networking is here to stay. It has resulted in unanticipated changes in our way of thought and expression. Once we lamented the age of sound-byte journalism on TV, which forces people to say in 10 seconds what they would normally take three minutes. Twitter compels the user not to exceed 140 characters – a limit within which no meaningful idea can possibly be expressed. I have no issue with the proliferation of such forums, except that I fear they are increasingly acting as enemies of serious thought, adding to the insulation of the self from the real world and paradoxically intensifying the alienation of humans from humans.
[The impact of Kanchan Gupta's "cattle class" tweet exchange with Shashi Tharoor has been phenomenal. Check it out here.]